What Fear Gets You

MLK Trayvon juxtopositionThe Zimmerman verdict had me moping around for a couple days. I read a little about Zimmerman when he was first charged, and he really sounded like a manipulative bully. Just the kind of guy who would want, but shouldn’t have, a gun. And then there was his “apology” that expressed regret for the consequences of his actions, but notably, not for the actions he chose. He even had the gall to assert Trayvon’s death was God’s will. The Guardian had a piece I thought sounded all the right notes.  Namely, since Zimmerman targeted Trayvon, where was Trayvon’s ground to stand?

After sleeping on it, I wonder if in some ways this tragedy is playing out in miniature a dynamic happening in America at large. Both men acted out of fear for their lives. One had lethal power and one had no power at all, but each felt genuinely threatened (whether justified or not). Likewise, almost half the people in this country own almost all the wealth, while the other half has almost none, and yet both feel threatened. To be more specific, the top 40% of Americans enjoy 95% of American wealth while the bottom 40% cling to 0.3%. The top 1% holds 42%–almost half–of American financial wealth, and yet many of those at the top are genuinely afraid that somehow healthcare for all or better public education or some other common good will take something away from their own wellbeing. They genuinely feel financially threatened and, frighteningly, have the clout to drive domestic policy.

Imaginary threats drive foreign policy as well. We dove into a decade of war that cost thousands of lives and trillions in taxpayer debt predicated on imaginary weapons that never turned up. The fear is not rational.  Dare I say, Americans would be more secure today had trillions been spent on diplomacy and education instead of war. And the richest Americans would benefit financially from a healthy, educated workforce. Despite this, much of policy discourse is driven by (and in fact depends on) people feeling genuine fear.

What happened to courage? High school kids all over Dallas have been assigned Devil in the White City for summer reading. It’s stacked on bookstore display tables and has long request lists at area libraries. Two kids in my house are reading it. From what I can remember from having read it a decade ago, it offered a fascinating account of how architecture and police work were done in the 1890’s. More fascinating still was the civic pride of ordinary citizens and their courage to undertake such an ambitious project. Where today, in our vapid celebrity culture, do we find ordinary people undertaking extraordinary things for the sake of human achievement?  Please comment with examples.  They would surely lighten my mood.

For both Zimmerman and Trayvon, fear drove the fatal missteps. If Zimmerman had had the courage to question Trayvon without a gun, if Trayvon had had the courage to respond without fists, if either had had the courage simply to ignore the other, what would have been possible? What would be possible if the 1% advocated common good or governments advanced diplomacy over jingoism?

Join the conversation. What fears can you identify within yourself, and what could a little courage make possible for you?

Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Symbol of Hope

Symbols have power.  The ancient Romans were onto this, and they knew how to wield it.  They dominated conquered people and kept them subjugated through that timeless implement of control—fear.  The Romans planted symbols everywhere to keep the fear fresh.  One of the most enduring and fearful symbols was that symbol of execution by crucifixion, the cross.  The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, but they did tune it for maximum cruelty, and they did use it liberally, at least in Judea.  The cross was a potent symbol of gruesome torture, fear and oppression for a thousand years until Constantine abolished crucifixion to honor Christ.

The symbol of the cross is no less potent now than it was thousands of years ago.  But a remarkable thing happened.  It now stands for love, hope and salvation.  Even the atrocities of the Crusades and Klu Klux Klan, committed bearing the sign of the cross, didn’t permanently throw the symbol’s meaning back to its ancient horror.  That the meaning of this symbol could be so radically transformed and still be powerfully evocative today is no less miraculous than bodily resurrection itself.

If you seek radical transformation for yourself, if there is a part of you that fills you with horror or angst, or if you desperately seek to make a break from your past, the symbol of the cross might offer you hope and encouragement.  It has a thousand year history of darkness, and yet it was radically remade into a symbol of light and love.  That remade meaning has endured for thousands of years more.  If that hateful image could be redeemed from its past and fundamentally transformed, then surely by God’s power, we can be, too.

My Easter prayer for you is that the darkness in your past will be redeemed.  The history of the cross’ symbolism wasn’t rewritten, and your history won’t be rewritten either.  Whatever malice or spite is lying in your past will remain there.  However, Jesus assures us in scripture that our returning is made more joyful to God because of our past sins, not despite them.

I used to wonder why Christians perceive more joy over one sinner returning than many staying on righteous paths.  Staying on the straight and narrow is no mean feat, after all.  I suspect the reason has to do with heartbreak.  To use a sailing analogy, imagine a sailing ship returning with all her crew from a routine voyage.  Certainly loved ones would happily welcome the expected return of any voyage.  Imagine the heartbreak and grief instead if the ship failed to return and all were feared lost at sea.  And then, imagine the ship limping into harbor with all souls accounted for.  The rejoicing would be greater because the returning conquers the heartbreak.

There is heartbreak and grief when we veer off course.  We inflict it on ourselves, on others and on God.  Upon returning, the heartbreak is not just repaired as if we had never veered off but surmounted, vanquished, and transcended.  It is like the resurrection of Jesus conquering his death or a symbol’s meaning transforming from cruelty to salvation.  So search yourself for the darkness within you, acknowledge the heartbreak there, and look to the cross with hope for redemption.

Join the conversation.  What is your deepest and most fervent hope?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Obstacles to Intimacy: Fear of Pain

It takes a certain fortitude to bring our full attention to inner inventory.  A tendency to avoid introspection or to cut the search short whenever we embark on it could indicate a fear within us asking to be addressed.

One possibility is fear of pain.  Looking honestly at where we fell short and feeling compassion for people we harmed can be painful.  Avoidance and denial can elude pain in the short term.  We pack painful memories into moving boxes, seal them with duct tape and chunk them into the attics of our psyches.  There they stay.  They might not interfere with day-to-day matters, but they don’t go away, either.  We can’t move on without dealing with them somehow.  We can lug them with us like dead weight or lighten our loads by unpacking them, deciding what needs to be discarded or given away, and choosing only those things of value for our journeys.

It’s often said fear of a thing is worse than the thing itself, and I have found that to be true with unpacking painful memories in introspection.  It’s no accident that Twelve Step programs call for fearlessness in the Fourth Step moral inventory.  Honest introspection is the most fearsome part of the practice of confession.  It helps to remember that the pain we fear can be extremely useful.  When we embrace it, it saves us from treading the same ground again.  When gathered up, it fuels the journey from the place where you were wounded to a place of healing and newness of life.

If you find yourself lingering at the threshold of introspection, you may need a shot of courage.  Ask God for it.  When we ask for God’s help navigating obstacles, we tend to be modest.  There are several reasons we ask for too little.  One is we miss the forest for the trees.  Our fixation on an immediate need or desire blinds us to a deeper trait that leads us repeatedly into distress.  Or we hesitate to ask for what we need because we don’t want to seem too greedy or to take more than our share of God’s mercy.  We ask for too little also because don’t really believe God can or will give what we ask, and doubting God seems safer than trusting him, being vulnerable, or being wrong.  We hedge.

Despite our modesty, scripture indicates nothing delights God more than answering the prayers of those who earnestly seek him.  God’s mercy is boundless.  Your share is not apportioned.  Consider whether you want to be driven by fear or something else.  Stephen Hawking put forward radical ideas about physics.  He wasn’t afraid to be wrong.  If he had been, black hole radiation would not have been discovered.  He was too curious to be held back by fear.  Let curiosity about what God can do in your life lead you forward.  Maybe these verses and breathing prayer will bring you courage for the first step.

7Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to thy
steadfast love remember me, for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord!
15My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. (Ps 25)

Inhale: curiosity
Exhale: fear

Join the conversation.  Is there anything in your attic that you need to give away?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

9/11: Reflections and Projections

Every time I turn on the radio or read newspaper I hear or see moving testimonials from those whose lives were dramatically altered by the events of 9/11/01.  I find these reflections to be fitting tributes, but I also wonder about where we go from here.  In particular, I ponder how fear is shaping us.

I worked in telecom network engineering for a number of years, and the marketing professionals whose job it was to define the value proposition of engineering solutions were always crafting FUD—fear, uncertainty and doubt.  It was not enough to create a case so compelling it inspired belief that one solution was clearly best.  One also had to plant FUD concerning doing nothing or alternative solutions.  Fear, marketing professionals knew, was a more powerful fuel for action than faith.

US policy makers were well versed in the power of FUD in the aftermath of 9/11.  Remember Homeland Security’s urging to have an emergency kit but demurring as to what it should contain?  Textbook FUD.  I may take heat for saying it, but I know road warriors who feel the TSA is a form of government terrorism against the travelling public.  Every trip starts with the inescapable reminder that danger, real or imagined, is present.

I was selected for special security screening once when travelling alone with my daughter.  She was three years old and it succeeded in terrifying her.  She was told to sit in a chair amid a sea of strangers hurrying to collect their things and rushing past while I was pulled aside for the search.  She was afraid to do as she was told, but reluctantly she did, and she sat on the edge of her chair anxiously trying to see what was happening to me.  When it was over, she implored me to tell her what they were looking for or what bad thing I had done.  She was just too young to comprehend random sampling.  To her mind, if they were searching me there was a reason they picked ME.  That confused her as much as being separated from me terrified her.  She had her turn three years later when at six years old she travelled with a 12-year old cousin to visit their grandparents.  I escorted them through airport security and was left untouched while the young girls were patted down.  Again, she was frightened
and perhaps a bit indignant as well.  (I could be projecting the indignation part.)

I also ponder the long-term impact of security screening required for all students, teachers and other workers on public school campuses in my home town.  I am in no way saying there is any place for weapons on planes or campuses or that authorities should not take precautions to prevent their use, but I do wonder about the message we are sending our youth.  Do they hear, “You are safe,” or “Danger is present?”  Do they hear, “You are dangerous so we have to screen YOU?”

More than that, I wonder about our trajectory as a nation.  If our pre-9/11 psyche is one
point, and where we are now is another point defining a line, then where will another
10 years on that line put us?

Join the conversation.  In 10 years will we be a nation guided by faith in ourselves or fear of ourselves?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.